Winterberg-Züschen (51.139414 | 8.494376)
The weather alone is a punishment. When I start hiking in Züschen, it drizzles lightly. Then heavier rain. I think, okay, could come worse. And it comes worse: In search of the court place I get lost in the forest. Finally arrived on a small hill, the sky changes its color from gray to black, a snowstorm breaks loose. I seek shelter among the nearby beeches. In the middle of the day it becomes gloomy, gusts of wind shake the branches, it runs ice cold down my back. The thought occurs to me: What a perfect staging for this place! The contours of the seven maple trees that surround the square blur in the twilight, I am all alone. In this complete seclusion and silence, it is easy to evoke ancient images:
An April morning in 1458, the day of judgment. In the middle of the square a mighty, gray stone block forms the judge's table. The baron wordlessly, with deliberate movement, places two objects on the slab, a sword and a rope. The jurors stand in a semicircle around him, each of them says the ritual salute, while he puts his right hand on his left shoulder: It is clear to the seven: it is a matter of life or death. They are the ones who know, they have been sworn in, a great responsibility rests on them. They know that if one of them reveals the court, its location, its punishments, he too will be hanged.
The small fry, the minor offenses are tried in the village. It is different in this place, far away in the forest and under the open sky. Whoever is ordered here, God have mercy on him! A man is brought before the stone judge's table. The farmer is charged with murder, he is said to have stabbed his neighbor. A "vemwrogige" crime, it belongs before the Feme. If he has comrades in oath among the jurors who testify to his innocence, there is a chance that he will get away alive. But the trial shows: He didn't. The Freigraf pronounces the death sentence.
A ray of sunlight brings me back to the present. The clouds have broken. It warms up abruptly, the jacket dries. I squat on one of the flat stone blocks scattered across the clearing, suggesting that one has sat in judgment here. Questions arise: What is justice for me, anyway? Is life fair? Is there such a thing as divine justice? Or are judgments always human, embedded in time, place, and culture? I sit down on the other stone squares. Each allows for a different perspective. I can sense the despair of the defendant; the wish of the jurors that peace be restored to the village; the inner struggle of the Freigrafen, who knows about his power over life and death and wants to do everything right. In the open-air courtroom there is room for very contradictory feelings.
As I walk back towards Züschen, I reflect on what I have experienced. Many horror stories circulated about the Feme in the Middle Ages. The regulations on secrecy fired people's imagination. There were rumors of arbitrariness and abuse of power, of torture and imprisonment. Organized cruelty. Today, historians know that there was indeed corruption and abuse of power. But the number of death sentences was rather low. The condemned could appeal to other free courts. There were rituals and rules, a struggle for justice. The aim was to maintain peace in the village communities. The Ten Commandments were also to be enforced by secular means.
Perhaps, I think, as I step out of the forest and the first half-timbered houses become visible, the Middle Ages were not as dark as they always say. Also at that time there was the desire of the people for justice. Even then, there were attempts to end the law of the fist and to curb violence. The Feme was one of them.
Author: Michael Gleich
Start hiking portal/Haus des Gastes in Züschen.
You can reach the Siebenahorn via the Sagen- und Mythenweg (legends and myths trail).
For further information please contact the Tourist-Information Winterberg: Tel: 02981/92500, E-Mail: email@example.com